AGAWAM, MA (WGGB/WHSM) -- The state announced a renewed effort to protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The governor said the Massachusetts National Guard is doing rapid testing at long term care facilities with clusters of the virus.

The program tested all of the residents at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and then National Guard Troops headed to Heritage Hall West in Agawam.

Officials with Heritage Hall West confirm there are five cases of the coronavirus among the residents in the building.

Those with family in the building said they’re scared for their loved ones.

“Because of her Alzheimer’s and dementia, because she has her good days and bad days, so if she doesn’t get to see family, she gets upset,” said Laural Charland whose mother lives at Heritage Hall West.

She hasn’t been able to visit her mother in person at the Heritage Hall West senior facility. She said trying to explain the coronavirus threat to her mother isn’t easy.

“She totally does not understand,” she said.

Charland told Western Mass news over the phone that earlier this week her mother called to say residents on her floor were sick with COVID-19. Charland said trying to get information from the home was challenging.

“People are just scared that they don’t know what’s going on with your family members, and it’s upsetting,” she said.

Western Mass News reached out to the Heritage Hall West spokesperson who confirmed that five residents tested positive for the virus.

They went on to say that they notified patients, residents and families and have begun daily video calls with them.

They also confirmed the National Guard’s assistance saying in part:

“As part of this program, the Massachusetts National Guard will administer tests for COVID-19 in our center.”

“You have people that are most vulnerable and those are the people that are in these nursing homes,” Mayor William Sapelli said.

Sapelli told Western Mass News over video chat that this effort from the National Guard will help families get answers quickly about their senior loved ones.

“If they have symptoms, to have them go out and get tested is near impossible in some cases of the most high-risk individuals, and we need to get results as soon as possible. So this new procedure is outstanding,” he said.

In the town of Agawam -- where COVID-19 cases have increased ninefold in just a week -- Sapelli said this news serves as a reminder for everyone to social distance.

“As of this morning, we had 45 live cases here in Agawam, and that’s going up all the time not just here, but everywhere. People have to take this seriously,” he said.

Western Mass News asked the spokesperson for Heritage Hall West if any staff members had tested positive, and she said those results are pending.

Copyright 2020.  Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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